Brand and Culture Are Misaligned at Most Companies

In my new book FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies, I explain that brand-culture fusion — the full integration and alignment of external brand identity and internal organizational culture — explains the success of the world’s greatest companies including the ones we’ve admired for years such as Southwest Airlines and Starbucks as well as the ones that have broken through more recently including Amazon and Airbnb.  But initial results from the Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment indicate that brand and culture are misaligned at most companies.

Why You Need Brand-Culture Fusion

Fully integrating and aligning your brand and culture produces meaningful, powerful results that affect your whole business.

First, brand-culture fusion aligns your workforce, increasing the efficiency of your entire organization and the quality of your outcomes.  Fusing together your brand and culture also improves your organization’s competitive advantage because it enables you to produce intangible value that is difficult to copy.  By aligning and integrating your culture and brand, you truly are on the inside what you say you are on the outside—and you pass the customer test of brand authenticity. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, brand-culture fusion allows you to move your organization toward its vision more successfully, since it provides a common motivation and focus for everyone in your organization.

Instead of treating brand and culture as separate entities, savvy business leaders power their companies’ performance by fusing together their brand and culture.

What Does Brand-Culture Fusion Look Like

When culture and brand are completely in sync, their alignment is manifested visibly in four primary areas:

  • Purpose and Values Integration — the extent to which your overarching purpose and your core values are woven into your business and organization.
  • Employee Experience – Customer Experience Integration — the extent to which your employee experience and your customer experience are aligned and integrated.
  • Internal Brand Alignment — the extent to which your people share one common understanding of your brand identity.
  • Employee Brand Engagement — the extent to which your people are aligned and engaged with your brand. Employee brand engagement shows up in 3 specific ways:
    1. Personal and emotional engagement with the brand
    2. Day-to-day engagement with the brand
    3. Engagement in your company’s brand strategy

Please refer to Chapter Two of FUSION for more information about each of these areas.

The Current State of Brand-Culture Fusion

Prior to publishing FUSION, I published a beta version of the Brand-Culture Assessment and 250 business leaders pre-tested it.*  Part of the assessment asks participants to assess their organizations on the each of the above four areas of brand-culture fusion.

Their responses indicate that most companies have moderate levels of Purpose and Values Integration.  For example, slightly over half of the participants gave a favorable rating (a “4” or “5” on a scale of 1-5, where “1” means “not at all” and “5” means “a lot”) on their employees understanding what their company stands for, why it exists, and what it values, and on their company’s leaders usually acting, making decisions, and communicating in ways that are consistent with their purpose and values.  However, having operations processes that are designed and implemented in line with their purpose and values was a weakness for most, with only a third giving a favorable rating on this area.

Employee Experience-Customer Experience Integration was a weaker area for the pre-testers.  While slightly over half rated their managers favorably for treating employees in ways that are consistent with how they expect employees to treat customers, far fewer reported that they design their employee experience with the same principles used for their desired customer experience — and only a quarter gave their organizations a favorable rating for using rites, rituals, and symbols that reflect and bring to life their purpose and core values.

Internal Brand Alignment also appears to need improvement at most companies.  Only a third of the participants reported that their organization’s brand identity and positioning have been clearly articulated to employees.  The responses also showed a significant discrepancy between business-to-consumer (B2C) companies and business-to-business (B2B) companies on the consistency of agreement among organization key stakeholders about what`s ‘on brand’ and what`s not, with 60% of B2C respondents giving a favorable rating compared to half that many of B2B respondents.

The pre-test revealed large variations of brand-culture alignment in the area of Employee Brand Engagement.  Personal and emotional engagement with the brand seems relatively strong across the board, with, for example, nearly two-thirds of the participants giving their organizations high ratings for having employees who believe that their company delivers on its brand identity and who feel an emotional connection to the company.

Engagement with the brand in the day-to-day was much weaker, with less than 40% of respondents giving favorable ratings for having employees who believe they are responsible for nurturing and reinforcing the brand on a daily basis and only 21% reporting that their people have appropriate access to tools and data about how their brand is perceived in the marketplace relative to their competitors.

Ratings were moderate on the area that assessed employees’ engagement in the company’s brand strategy:  only 43 % gave a favorable rating on their employees understanding what makes their brand different and special from a customer perspective.  Again, B2C companies seem to enjoy stronger Employee Brand Engagement than do B2B companies.

The Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment produces a Brand-Culture Fusion Score to represent the overall strength of brand-culture fusion at an organization.  The average Fusion score for all pre-testers was 63 out of a possible 100.  As a summary of the general state of brand-culture fusion today, this indicates a lot of room for improvement.

How to Achieve Brand-Culture Fusion

These results indicate that few companies have strong brand-culture fusion across the board.  If you suspect this might be the case at your organization (or you have taken the Assessment and found you lack fusion), you should implement the 5 strategies for achieving it:

  1. Organize and Operate On- Brand: Implement an organizational design and run your operations to give your organization the structure and processes necessary to operationalize your culture.
  2. Create Culture-Changing Employee Experiences: Deliberately design and manage your company’s employee experience—just as you would customer experiences—so that every facet of an employee’s journey throughout his or her connection to your organization encourages and enables your desired culture.
  3. Sweat the Small Stuff: Ensure even the most mundane or minute aspect of your organization—from its “rituals” and “artifacts” (things your organization regularly does and creates to commemorate or symbolize important achievements or events) to its policies and procedures—advances and supports your desired culture.
  4. Ignite Your Transformation: Use employee brand engagement tactics—stage employee brand engagement experiences, launch creative communications campaigns, and develop and deploy employee brand engagement toolkits—to kick- start the fusion process and then to regain focus and momentum when necessary.
  5. Build Your Brand from the Inside Out: If your culture is so powerful or established that it doesn’t make sense to try to change it to achieve brand- culture fusion, leverage your existing culture to define or re- define your brand identity.

In FUSION, I provide analyses and tools and share the stories of great organizations—including Airbnb, Adobe, Nike, MGM Resorts, Salesforce, and many more—that have successfully implemented each of these strategies so you can be inspired and equipped to achieve brand-culture fusion at your company.

You can purchase the book here — or, if you can’t wait, jump right into the Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment to start understanding the current state of brand-culture fusion at your organization.  And as always, contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss how to power your company to greatness by aligning and integrating your brand and culture.

* Based on the pre-test results and feedback I received on the beta version of the Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment, I revised the survey slightly before publishing it and the book.


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